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Online Course: Basics of Archives

Course Description

The newly revised Basics of Archives online course is designed to give organizations and individuals who are responsible for the care of historical records an introduction to the core aspects of managing and protecting historical records collections, using appropriate principles and best practices.

The course consists of seven lessons:

  • Archives and Archivists
  • Acquiring Your Collections
  • Processing Collections
  • Housing Your Collections
  • Access and Outreach
  • Digital Records
  • Digitization


COURSE DATES: January 27 - March 1, 2020

COST: $85 AASLH Members / $160 Nonmembers

OPEN REGISTRATION: November 1, 2019 - January 19, 2020


Course Logistics

FORMAT: Online, self-paced course with instructor feedback

LENGTH: 5 weeks; 15-20 hours to be completed anytime during the five-week course period (dates above).

PARTICIPATION STYLE: Online chat. There are no required times to be online.

MATERIALS: There are no required texts for this course. All materials will be provided.

Who Should Take This Course

This course is a beginning level course designed for professional staff and volunteers of historical organizations and libraries with historical collections who have little to no experience with archival materials.


Charlie Arp has a BA and MA in history from Ohio University where he specialized in archival studies. From 1991 to 2003 he worked at the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) where he held a variety of positions including archival processor, reference archivist, Head of Reference, Assistant State Archivist and State Archivist. As Assistant State Archivist he was the digital projects coordinator and he formed and chaired the Ohio Electronic Records Committee, an interdisciplinary group formed to draft electronic records policy, guidelines, and best practices for state and local governments in Ohio.  As State Archivist he was a senior level manager responsible for the planning, coordination, and administration of the operations of the State Archives including the Local Government Records program and the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor Archives/Library.

In 2003 Charlie was hired by the Battelle Memorial Institute as Enterprise Content Manager. At Battelle Charlie pioneered managing electronic records in lieu of paper records. Charlie also supervised the Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) archives. GLP records fall under FDA regulations to ensure that the records documenting scientific research for substances put in or on humans are created reliably and maintained authentically over time. In 2015 Charlie tested and validated the use of an electronic management program to enable Battelle to create, manage, preserve and use electronic records as part of submissions to the FDA.

In early 2016 Charlie accepted an offer for early retirement from Battelle. Since then he has started an archival and records management consulting firm and authored Archival Basics: A Practical Manual for Working with Historical Collections (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).

Participant Feedback

“This course was exactly what we need to improve our rather small Collection and take it to another step. Thanks for all of the ideas and information. I am especially impressed with how well the course is organized and presented online. The site was very well thought out and presented no problems for me – a slightly challenged computer geek-wanna be.”

“This was a marvelous course and now I have confidence that I can do the work: material to reference and people to communicate with as needed.”

“I just wanted to say thank you for having this course.  It has really helped me decide what direction I want to make my education in and had definitely helped me with some of the smaller preservation jobs I take on at the library.”

Built for Speed

Archives aren’t exactly designed for speed. But as I read recently about the Smithsonian’s rapid capture process for the digitization of collections, I see another a sign that archives are evolving in the right direction. Of course, few can scale like the Smithsonian, and that makes the up-front investment prohibitive for most. But that doesn’t mean we throw in the towel. Instead, it’s time to prioritize. Unfortunately, prioritization is more often the cause of stagnation than action. Don’t let it happen to you!

In the John Deere Archives we have competing priorities like everyone else. Some weeks everyone wants a photo. Other days it’s film. Often it’s in the form of questions like “give me everything you have on tractors.” Really?


Those questions, however, do have one thing in common—“can you scan it and send it to me immediately!” So as we work to get in front of the questions and to deliver digital surrogates, where do we start? Our process for prioritization is imperfect, but it’s a process nonetheless. We have mobilized to aggressively digitize photos and film. We looked at nearly 10,000 reels of film to determine where to start, and got it down to about 100 that will capture nearly 100 years of equipment history, as well as cultural footage such as architecture, etc. We thought about our hundreds of thousands of photographs, and decided not all are created equally. We identified the bottlenecks. We still have them, and we don’t have a way around them right now. However, we did move the bottleneck to the end of the process so we could provide access. And—and I cannot overstress this—we learned to say NO (as much as we can). It’s the path to being able to say YES.

We can always be more responsive, but continue to make great strides. We can quickly access digital content. We can plan in advance; know who to call for help; and have some answers before the question comes. Perhaps most importantly, our approach demonstrates that we are evolving with the rest of the business, and aligned to the needs of the business and our customers. By prioritizing ourselves, we are indeed building ourselves for speed! What decisions have you made to evolve your operation?

Neil Dahlstrom is the Manager, Corporate History for John Deere & Company.